Mind reading will never be a category in the prestigious Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholar Awards program, but it's probably one skill finalists in Wednesday's judging wish they'd mastered.

As they nervously waited for final interviews, the 180 high school seniors competing to be recognized as the best in their fields wanted to know what was on the judges' minds. As soon as one scholar emerged from an interview with a trio of judges, apprehensive students waiting in the hall at Skyline High School would blurt out: "What did they ask you?"The finalists, relieved to have the nerve-wracking wait and interview over, willingly reeled off answers. But their responses really didn't give away any secrets.

"They asked questions about the things in my portfolio," said foreign language finalist Karin James, Brighton, referring to the student-produced booklets listing the students' accomplishments, goals, grades, examples of work and school and community service.

While most were relying on the on-the-spot interviews for their information, visual arts finalist Christina Graff of Ben Lomond interviewed past Sterling Scholar winners to gain insight into the judging. Despite the research, she admitted to being "a little bit nervous."

And the waiting isn't over yet.

Although the judges selected the 12 winners and 24 runners-up Wednesday, the results won't be announced until the Sterling Scholar ceremony April 13 in Cottonwood High School. It will be broadcast on KSL-TV Channel 5 at 7 p.m.

The 180 Wasatch Front finalists were selected from among 530 nominees from 46 high schools from Payson to Smithfield. Fifteen finalists competed in each category, including English, social science, speech/drama, mathematics, science, foreign language, visual arts, industrial education, homemaking, business, music and general scholarship. Besides academic achievement, the students were also judged on citizenship and leadership.

Not all 180 students can be winners, but the judges seemed to think they are. Judge after judge complained Wednesday about the difficulty in trying to find the best of the best.

"They are all clearly deserving of being Sterling Scholars. I hope they don't feel they've failed if they're not selected. It would be a tragedy if anyone felt that way," said biologist Richard Mueller of Utah State University, a science judge.

He was so impressed with the caliber of the science students that he joked about asking them to solve a few of his research problems during the interviews.

Mueller and the other judges repeatedly remarked about how all of the students had exhibited exceptional scholastic achievement in almost every field. Salt Lake artist Keith Montague pulled out a portfolio of a visual arts finalist, who also had a string of A's in chemistry, physics and mathematics as well as art.

The breadth of their learning and their strong commitment to education in a wide range of topics came out in comments by the students.

General scholarship finalist Catherine Leining, Highland, said she wants to be continually challenged by introducing herself to new subjects. She said an interest in chemistry led her to study biology and physics, while French sparked a desire to learn Spanish and Italian, too.

English finalist David Krzymowski, Orem, works for the school literary magazine, loves humanities and the classics, especially Virgil and Dante, and is in his second year of Latin classes at Brigham Young University.

But he wants to be a doctor and thinks training in the humanities will prove valuable. "There is a lot more humanities in medicine, especially when you talk about morals, than people realize," he said.

Music finalist Russell Ruben, Murray, played "Concerto in F Minor" by Georg Phillip Telemann on the oboe during his session with the judges. But he plans a career in business and accounting. "I love them both," he said of music and business.

Mathematics finalist R. Burns Israelsen, Sky View, Logan, hobbled into his interview on crutches. He wasn't suffering from making any quantum leaps in his logic. It seems he enjoys basketball as well as math.

The Sterling Scholar Awards were begun by the Deseret News in 1962, because it was felt that student scholars should be recognized on a par with student athletes, said Keith West, Sterling Scholar Awards director.

The 1988 finalists said they feel it's an honor to be selected for the competition.